To no one’s surprise, the first balanced budget amendment vote in 16 years has failed, 261 to 165. That puts it 29 votes shy of the 2/3 majority it needed to pass. The previous BBA in 1995 passed the House, but died in the Senate.
Voting on a Balanced Budget Amendment was one of the awesome deficit-fighting measures in the amazing Budget Control Act of 2011, which also gave us a “deficit fighting” Super Committee that occasionally talks about spending increases. The Budget Control Act stipulated that both houses of Congress had to vote on the measure, but nobody said it had to pass. Congress has done its fiscal duty, and solemnly promised to continue spending more money that it takes in, after giving serious thought to the radical notion of living within its means.
This amendment was nothing so sensible as the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act, which did pass the House, and came very close to passing in the Senate. That was at the height of the pesky “debt ceiling crisis,” when Americans were so angry about unlimited government debt that President Obama and his Democrat Party actually thought they might have to significantly reduce the speed at which they rack it up.
The amendment defeated today was the kind of Balanced Budget Amendment that could easily become a cudgel for extracting massive tax increases from the American public (“Hey, we gotta balance the budget! It’s the law! Now make with your “fair share” and give us another trillion bucks!”) That’s why fiscal hawk Paul Ryan (R-WI), along with David Dreier (R-CA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Justin Amash (R-MI), voted against it, as reported by MSNBC:
“I’m concerned that this version will lead to a much bigger government fueled by more taxes,” Ryan said in a statement. “Spending is the problem, yet this version of the BBA makes it more likely taxes will be raised, government will grow, and economic freedom will be diminished. Without a limit on government spending, I cannot support this Amendment.”
This, of course, was not a concern for tax-hungry Democrats, who had other reasons for voting against the measure:
“A Constitutional amendment that cannot easily be enforced to balance the budget is a hollow gesture that at the very least will be ineffective,” Rep. Van Hollen said in the letter, “At the very worst, a balanced budget amendment enshrined within the Constitution could generate a Constitutional impasse with catastrophic consequences.”
That would be Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who sits on the farcical Super Committee, charged with the awesome responsibility of ensuring the national debt only increases by 80% over the next 10 years. When he talks about “hollow, ineffective gestures,” he means “horrible embarrassments to Congressional spendaholics, who have no intention of restraining themselves until the economy suffers a complete breakdown.”
Van Hollen does have a point, in that going through this doomed “weak BBA” vote is a waste of time that could be better spent investigating Obama corruption. Many representatives with serious reservations about this version of the Balanced Budget Amendment nevertheless voted for it with serene confidence that the Senate would kill it stone dead. “Blue Dog Democrat” scam artists voted “yes” for the same reason. It’s worth giving Minority Whip Steny Hoyer a little heartburn, in exchange for a set of lovely “I voted for a balanced budget!” campaign commercials. Steny understands completely.
Everyone in America knows there is zero chance of obtaining a balanced budget as long as Democrats are anything but a rump party, and weak-kneed Republicans are willing to settle for Big Government at “Black Friday” discount prices. Let’s get the White House and Senate into sane hands next year, make sure deficit-friendly Republicans are scared half to death, and then bring the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act back. It is, and always has been, the only real solution.
Update: Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) did vote for the BBA today, but he’s also thinking along the same lines as regards the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act:
Today’s vote provided yet one more reason why the House should have stood firm for ‘Cut, Cap, Balance.’ It is purely political theater to require that the House and Senate simply take a vote on – rather than actually pass – a Balanced Budget Amendment. It is just another symbolic exercise for the history books. Time and again, Washington has failed to enact structural reforms that would force politicians to get spending under control. ‘Cut, Cap, Balance’ was the opportunity of a lifetime to actually force Washington to balance its budget like 49 of the 50 states are required to do.
We were told to abandon ‘Cut, Cap, Balance’ because default was supposedly looming. But, on the day of supposed default, there were billions of dollars in the Treasury to cover our obligations. And, weeks later even Vice President Biden admitted that default would never happen. But what did happen, though, was a credit downgrade, due in large part to Washington’s failure to implement structural reforms to end to the out-of-control spending and borrowing – reforms like a Balanced Budget Amendment and real spending caps.
It’s disappointing that when we had $14.3 trillion in debt this summer the House did not stand its ground and force the Democratic Senate to take up ‘Cut, Cap, Balance’ to reverse Washington’s addition of spending. But, it’s even more disappointing that in the same week that America surpasses the $15 trillion debt threshold, Democrats still continue to balk at the idea of requiring Washington to balance its budget.